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Maradona, tortured genius on celluloid in Cannes (SN)

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 19 May 2008


Diego Maradona, star of Bosnian director Emir Kusturica's documentary to be released Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival, was a footballing genius upon whom Argentina fans bestowed godlike status even before he starred in their 1986 World Cup success.

But retirement brought the other side of the fame/infamy coin as he became addicted to drink and drugs, while his weight ballooned.

Despite his excesses, Diego Armando Maradona, born in 1960 in Buenos Aires, continues to enjoy the adulation of millions in his homeland and embodies the legend of the “diez,” the number ten shirt he always wore after bursting on the international scene while still a teenager.

His extraordinary talents, as evidenced by his slaloming run through the England defence in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals to net the winner after his controversial “Hand of God” opener, put him on a level only with Pele, the Brazilian widely accepted until then as the best player ever.

Maradona continually courted controversy, his drug use leading to a pair of bans – notably after the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States where he failed a dope test for ephedrine.

In 1991 he had been suspended for 15 months after testing positive for cocaine in Italy, where he had become a cult hero with Napoli, whom he had joined in 1984.

He started playing professionally days before his 16th birthday with Argentinos Junior but switched in 1981 to Boca Juniors, where he would stay barely a year, thrilling a packed and shaking Bombonera stadium before heading to Europe and joining Barcelona.

Three years later he switched again to Napoli and won two league titles before the drugs controversies overwhelmed him, though he would have a short spell with Spain's Sevilla before heading back to Argentina and winding down his playing days aged 37 in 1997.

For Argentines he was and remains the Pibe de Oro, the Golden Child, who had made good after an unbringing on the wrong side of the tracks.

But the wheel of fortune turned against him as his drug and weight problems mounted prior to a stomach stapling operation.

He has battled hard to beat cocaine and in the meantime enjoyed successful stints as a television presenter.

When he was still pitchside national teammate Jorge Valdano said of him: “I wanted to stop playing and just watch him.”

But Valdano also cautioned against anyone emulating his later off-field lifestyle.

Since the turn of the century Maradona's life has comprised a helter-skelter of brash celebrity and dramatic health downturns – he was hospitalised at the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este in 2000 with a heart attack brought on by drugtaking.

He recovered and headed to Cuba for a treatment – the island's former leader Fidel Castro is a longstanding friend while the player also admired late revolutionary Che Guevara.

Maradona spent the next four years shuttling between the Communist Caribbean state and Argentina battling his ongoing cocaine addiction.

In 2004, a further heart attack saw him come within an ace of death and once more he left for treatment in Havana.

But he rallied and lost some 50 kilos after undergoing gastric bypass surgery in a Colombian clinic in March 2005.

In March, 2007, Maradona was readmitted to an Argentine hospital for treatment for hepatitis and the effects of alcohol abuse, then released and re-admitted. He was discharged two months later and a year ago insisted his drinking and drug abuse were behind him.

Two years beforehand he had invited Pele onto his television show to reminisce, only to slide towards the abyss once more.

Since his last brushes wth poor health Maradona has increasingly sought to make a political impact, praising Castro and Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's left-wing president, while deriding the United States.


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